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Artist/Musician Invents Easy-to-Play Instrument

Bob McNally, who considers himself both an artist and a musician, put both of those talents to use when he developed the Strumstick, an instrument that looks a little like a guitar, only with a long, narrow neck and a smaller body.

He designed it that way to encourage everyone, and not just musicians, to play music.

“People are capable of playing a musical instrument, but if you play an instrument and get frustrated with it early enough, you decide, it’s you, there’s something lacking in you,” he said. “I wanted to make an instrument that was a frontal assault on that misunderstanding."

And it only has three stings, which according to McNally, makes it a lot easier to play than other stringed instruments.

"The frets are spaced to give you just a major scale do-re-mi…and that means that when people squeeze one string, they get a couple of notes in the background for free, and they get the notes of a major scale, no wrong notes," he said. "So you can cover maybe 80 percent of most popular music with a Strumstick, but you’re only playing in one key at a time.”

McNally sells about 3,000 Strumsticks a year. The price ranges from $170 to double that, depending on the woods used and decorative elements.

Many of his sales come from events like the Smithsonian Craft Show, one of the most difficult craft shows to get into.

This year, about 120 artists were selected to present a wide variety of one-of-a-kind or limited edition works in 12 different media; everything from jewelry boxes disguised as books and bookends, to ceramics, glass and so-called wearable art.

“I’m always extremely grateful when I get in,” said McNally, “because it’s obviously a good show to do in terms of business, but the thing that’s almost more important is that the people who come to the show, the public, are very educated about craft.”

Proceeds from ticket sales and donations go towards education, research and outreach at the Smithsonian Institution.